ANKARA (Reuter)–Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan–the first Islamist to lead modern Turkey–resigned Wednesday in a power-sharing deal with his pro-Western coalition allies.
"A short while ago I presented my resignation to the president," Erbakan told reporters after a 45-minute meeting with President Suleyman Demirel.
Erbakan–under extreme pressure from the anti-Islamist army–hopes to transfer power to his deputy Tansu Ciller in a caretaker government to take the country to early elections.
Anatolian news agency said Demirel had accepted the resignation and asked the Islamist-led cabinet to stay in office in a caretaker capacity.
The one-year-old coalition’s parliamentary majority has dissolved in a secularist onslaught led by the generals.
The proposed transfer of power–which still faces a host of procedural and political obstacles–was announced earlier this month in a bid to defuse the crisis with the military–which accuses Erbakan of fostering Islamic activism.
The president’s office told Reuters that Demirel would begin meeting other party leaders on Thursday morning to decide who to nominate as prime minister designate.
Erbakan–70–said he had given the president a letter signed by the current coalition partners–plus a far-right ally–requesting that the president ask Ciller to form the next government.
The national assembly must approve any transfer of power and early polls–and the prospects for power swap remain uncertain.
Turkish secularists gloated Wednesday at Erbakan’s resignation
"To hell with him–we’ve had enough–we don’t want Erbakan or any of his lot any more. I just hope we’ve seen the last of them that’s all," said Zeynep Peker in Nisantasi–a posh upmarket Istanbul district famed for expensive boutiques.
"All they have done in the last year is strengthen religious reaction and fill government offices with their own people," said Bilge Bilgic–head of the Ataturk Philosophy Association–which seeks to defend the legacy of Turkey’s secularist founder Kemal Ataturk.
Many Turks in Istanbul’s upmarket malls and shopping streets were angry at efforts by Erbakan’s Welfare Party to bring an Islamic atmosphere into public life with plans for mosques in secular strongholds and encouragement of religious brotherhoods.
Secularists saw Erbakan’s vision of global Moslem brotherhood as an attempt to undermine the republic forged by Ataturk from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire–run along Islamic lines.
"They want to drag us back to the middle ages–to turn the country into an Iran–or Saudi Arabia," said Hasan–drinking beer next to the Bosphorus Straits in Istanbul’s trendy Ortakoy.
"Erbakan came to power declaring a just order… He could only manage one year as prime minister…Erbakan had to hand over the premiership to avoid his party being closed down," the mass-circulation daily Sabah declared in its front page on Wednesday in anticipation of the resignation .
"If you ask me–it’s great–God saved us from him," said Kaan Hamacioglu–a nightclub DJ.
"I’m glad he’s going–but whoever it is that comes in his place–all they care about is how to rip the country off," said Mahmut Demir–surveying the traffic from behind the wheel of his taxi.